Published on December 11th, 2010 | by admin0
When Judge President Petrus Damaseb took up office as head of Namibia’s second most powerful judicial body in 2004 few would have worried that he was too close to Swapo and its government leaders. It was difficult to think that his independence would be compromised by that. He has long been known and respected for his free thinking spirit and professional integrity.
If anything, friends and adversaries may instead have accused him of being arrogant. But it’s arrogance that has an air of competency about it. Many viewed him as impartial despite his Swapo membership and activism. Even Swapo leaders are said to be careful how they approach him because he is jealous about his professional space. Legend has it that Damaseb let an edgy Sam Nujoma wait (perhaps even sweat) for results during the acrimonious Swapo extraordinary congress that elected Nujoma’s successor.
insight has Damaseb on the record criticising his colleagues on the bench, for instance, for taking too long to deliver judgements. He has not been shy to give the politicians a dressing down about the impact of their attitude towards funding the smooth functioning of the courts, especially the High Court.
The High Court and its administration was thus given to a safe pair of hands.
Understand us, therefore, when we join the queue of people who are worried about Damaseb’s and Judge Collins Parker’s delay in delivering the verdict on the disputed National Assembly elections that took place a year ago.
The speed with which the two judges dispensed with the first instances of the opposition parties’ case earlier in the year was commendable. In fact, the two judges understood very well that elections are an important tenet of our democracy and if there was substance in the questioning of result, the deadlock ought to be broken speedily so that whoever is elected to govern, does so without aspersion cast on their legitimacy. In the early stages of the case, the judges ordered that the merits of the case be argued together with technicalities about whether the case was brought to court within the prescribed period.
Having dismissed the opposition’s case on a technicality, and that judgment being overruled and referred back by the Supreme Court for the two judges to decide on the substance of the allegations, a sense of paralysis appears to have struck Damaseb and Parker.
The delay does not augur well for the standing of our High Court. Damaseb has been said to have flown out of the country at least one or two times to attend to FIFA matters. Surely he and Parker could find time to hunker down and complete the elections case, can’t they? For, what use is an election challenge, especially one that questions the legitimacy of leaders who run the country, if remains unresolved indefinitely? How legitimate would the actions of the leaders in power be if, as unlikely as it may seem now, the entire elections were found to be flawed?
More than that Damaseb and Parker should be mindful of the damage such a long, unexplained delay does to the public’s faith in the courts. It may sound exaggerated but people often go to court to have a deadlock broken because they believe the judiciary will give them speedy closure. People know it’s win or lose in court. But it is the certainty they seek more than the fact that they want a decision in their favour.
If decisions, especially ones that must be tackled speedily were left hanging for long people’s belief in the judicial system will be undermined. It has happened in countries such as Zimbabwe, where challenges to the legitimacy of election results took years to be resolved in court.
Such delays, one may imagine, could gradually play into the hands of bad losers who some day may take the law into the own hands using that as a smokescreen. Delays like these could invite chaos. And that is what our democratic set up is designed to avoid by emphasizing the importance and independence of the judiciary.
It is unhelpful for the High Court’s registrar to arrogantly tell people who want a speedy judgment that the court will not be rushed. The court should appreciate that it is also for its own competent existence that speedy and well considered decisions are made.
Judge President Damaseb and Judge Parker, if only on the elections case, should listen to calls for a speedy resolution of this matter. The least, they can do is to explain to the public so that there may be an appreciation for what has surely become a questionable delay.
Happy New Year
2010 has just about turned the corner. It was an eventful year for Namibia and the African continent. The year which began with a court challenge to national elections, the swearing in of new government leaders also witnessed a milestone in entertainment when South Africa hosted the football world cup.
By the time we held the local and regional authorities elections it seems obvious many people were exhausted and apathetic. Handing power to the President to appoint governors, instead of letting voters elect them was a major step backwards in getting people more interested in the level of government that is most relevant to them.
We trust next year will bring with it renewed interest by Namibians to take part in activities – be it economic or politics – aimed at building the country. We wish you and yours a wonderful holiday and a prosperous 2011.